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Can silence help brands sell?

20 : 07 : 2017 Retail : Silence : New York Times
Doug Wheeler: PSAD Synthetic Desert III, New York. Photography by David Heald Doug Wheeler: PSAD Synthetic Desert III, New York. Photography by David Heald

Brands need to start capitalising on the increased value of silence, offering a sanctuary from sensory overload to draw people into their stores.

Rhiannon McGregor, junior journalist, LS:N Global

According to Matthew Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, ‘because we have allowed our attention to be monetised, if you want yours back, you’re going to have to pay for it’.

In his article in The New York Times, The Cost of Paying Attention, Crawford recounts how in many aspects of our daily lives, silence is no longer a given but a commodity, and that the extent of our sensory bombardment is such that it is only in paying for silence that we can fully understand its significance.

In light of this, do brands need to start capitalising on the increased value of silence, offering a sanctuary from sensory overload to draw people into their stores? And how will this affect the rest of the in-store experience?

It has long been known that too much noise is associated with increased blood pressure, sleep loss and heart disease. In fact, silence was pinpointed as a leading trend at this year’s Global Wellness Summit and airports such as London City, Barcelona El Prat and Warsaw Chopin have been quick to adopt the idea of using silence to optimise the retail environment by actively reducing tannoy announcements to improve passengers’ mood, according to Tim Radley in a recent article for Frontier magazine.

In 2013, Selfridges staged a No Noise pop-up experience to ‘celebrate the power of quiet’. It offered a silence room where customers could relax and de-stress, with visitors asked to leave phones in the lockers provided. The focus was therefore more on removing shoppers from ‘the whirl of bargains and the build-up of energy’ on the shop floor than on augmenting the retail experience through silence.

It has long been known that too much noise is associated with increased blood pressure, sleep loss and heart disease. In fact, silence was pinpointed as a leading trend at this year’s Global Wellness Summit

With recent scientific research on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function suggesting that silence promotes new brain cells in the hippocampus – the area associated with memory, learning and emotion – tapping into this powerful resource could help promote memories, encouraging better brand recognition and consumer loyalty.

Advances in technology now enable us to build whole environments designed to absorb sound. Earlier this year, the Guggenheim Museum held the PSAD Synthetic Desert III immersive exhibition based on the work of artist Doug Wheeler. The hermetic environment functioned as a semi-anechoic chamber, a space designed to suppress almost all ambient sounds, allowing the curators to introduce their own sounds that provoke a particular psychological reaction.

In negating aural stimuli, or choosing which sounds people are exposed to, retailers can also help to heighten the impact of the other senses. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts recently employed a resident neuroscientist to provide scientific insight into how best to position artworks for maximum impact. The move may provoke controversy in the art world, but if brands can replicate the silent conditions of an art gallery it could be a useful way to present particular products in a retail environment.

As we at LS:N Global have been tracking for the past few years, the use of interactive, phygital retail environments is now widespread and people are beginning to look for ways to counteract this digital clamour. There is something incredibly captivating about silence. It makes us feel more serene and more alert simultaneously. But striking a balance through curation is key, because, as Crawford hints, for silence to truly reign there must be contrast. Brands must therefore consider how best to incorporate silence into their offer, aligning it with mood-enhancing noise to create spaces that customers will want to return to.

For more on how forward-thinking brands are competing to recapture consumers' attention, see our macrotrend The Focus Filter. To find out more about how the retail landscape will evolve over the coming years, buy our Retail Futures Report 2017 here.